Total foreign debt held by developing nations jumped more than 5% to US$7.8 trillion, driven by a surge in Chinese debt, the World Bank said in a report on Wednesday.
But the data show an increasing share of countries where the debt burden is rising, according to the International Debt Statistics Report.
A growing appetite for Yuan-denominated debt was behind a 15% surge in China's debt level, which helped push up the total, the World Bank said in a statement.
Loans from multilateral lenders surged 86% but that was almost entirely due to the International Monetary Fund's record aid to crisis-battered Argentina.
Excluding the top 10 borrowers, foreign debt rose by just 4%, the World Bank said.
Borrowers in sub-Saharan Africa saw debt levels swell by 8%, while half the countries in the region have seen their external debt double over the past decade, the report said.
To grow faster, many developing countries need more investment that meets their development goals, World Bank Group President David Malpass said.
However, he flagged the continuing concerns about complete information on debt levels and its composition.
Transparency is a critical part of attracting more investment and building an efficient allocation of capital, and these are essential in our work to improve development outcomes, he said.